Ode to Mothering


I arrived home this Mother’s Day evening to find a card and small vase of flowers waiting on my doorstep.  The sight alone was gift enough, but the real treasure was the poem inside.  I share it here with the permission of my dear friend and writer, Saralina Kamholtz.

We are scooping up stars
and giving them back on freshly washed plates,
Spilling them like apples from our hands
into neat constellations, crispy and sweet.
We are clearing a path
for your feet to go racing forward,
Handing you chalk to build your ladders
to some new heaven stretching out on the pavement ahead.
We are sending our voices out,
tucked into pockets,
Stitching flannel lining for your fingers to find
when darkness whispers its cold breath,
and you are standing there, alone,
waiting for the street lamps to turn on.
We are laying heads in our laps
at the end of each last summer day,
where we have been saying “go” and “come back,”
with the rise and fall of waves,
Finger knitting stories into your hair
that will carry you through sleep.
Most of the blooming things I know of
start as seeds,
sheltered by the fierce and loving hearts of women.

© May 2013 by Saralina Kamholtz. All rights reserved.


As the Bells Ring Out

As I write this, bells are ringing across Massachusetts to honor the lives lost and broken as a result of the violence in Boston last week.  I share this native American folktale in the hope that we find ways to nurture the good in ourselves and one another.

Two Wolves

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.

“One is Evil – It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

“The other is Good – It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

two wolves

We can no longer say we did not know

The U.S. continues to wrestle with its collective conscience in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy.  Conversations are becoming more urgent about how to make our cities, schools, and country safer.  The discussions are involving a diverse range of people, from police officers to video game makers, victims of gun violence, and gun advocates.  In all of the dialogue, though, there is one group it seems we are neglecting: young people.  I’d like for us to actively engage children in the national conversation and listen to their views on how to create a world worthy of their futures.  At our dinner table the other night, I asked my two children (ages 12 and 14) what they thought about gun violence.  My kids were unequivocal about their desires: they want a world with less violence and more nature.

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding hearings on gun control.  And perhaps we can make things better by adjusting laws and placing more restrictions on gun ownership.  Yet it seems to me that it’s also about changing social mores.  YMCA summer camps for kids offer riflery as an activity option.  Guns are sold along with toilet paper and shampoo at Wal-Mart.  Children as young as four have received BB guns for Christmas.  So what I wonder is this: how can we make being a “gun enthusiast” as bizarre and socially unacceptable as being a guillotine collector?  Collecting guillotines would be weird and morbid and kind of creepy.  Guillotines are instruments of death.  How are guns different?

Major social shifts and the resulting legal reform are always preceded by a groundswell of citizens who press for an elevated level of consciousness.  In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery.  William Wilberforce and his colleagues (spanning  both liberals and conservative evangelicals) meticulously documented the horrors of slave transport and life.  Wilberforce said “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”  The weight of evidence ultimately made it impossible for men and women of conscience to ignore or dismiss.  We too, can no longer say we did not know:  we have mounting evidence each day of what the implications are of normalizing guns.

Now is the time for a new level of consciousness– for moving beyond mute acceptance of viewing guns, like slavery, as an inevitable but regrettable part of life.  I’ll close with a quote from Half The Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

“Slavery was once widely viewed by many decent Europeans and Americans as a regrettable but ineluctable feature of human life.  It was just one more horror that had existed for thousands of years.  But then in the 1780s a few indignant Britons, led by William Wilberforce, decided that slavery was so offensive that they had to abolish it.  And they did.”

When will we decide that gun violence is so offensive that we must abolish it?  And have the courage to pursue the future that our children long for?

We can no longer say we did not know.

MLK and the Power of Song

Every year, the Music Institute of Chicago pays tribute to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a concert by the Brotherhood Chorale, a 180-member all-male choir from the Apostolic Church of God in Woodlawn.  Their voices joined together are pure power—enough to make you believe that song alone might be able to vanquish all evil from the planet.  Who’s to say that it can’t?  Music certainly played a pivotal role in civil right movement, both in its ability to build unity and strength amongst those rising up and to appeal to the conscience of fellow citizens.  I’d like to share a portion of a speech given by Dr. Mark George, President and CEO of the Music Institute of Chicago in January 2011.

“In the past few weeks, I have been asked several times why the Music Institute of Chicago places so much emphasis in its annual tribute to Martin Luther King.  Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired us to be better as a nation, better as a community and better as individuals.  It occurs to me that, in a small way, striving to be a little better each day, each time you try something, is also what musicians do.  Musicians practice and refine their art every day so that they can express through music what is too powerful or too beautiful for words alone.

This is why I find it no accident that Martin Luther King, Jr. married a musician. Coretta Scott King used her musical talents to support the struggle for social justice.  She wrote and performed many “Freedom Concerts” that raised awareness and raised money for the cause.  Mrs. Coretta Scott King understood the power of music – music that praises the glory of God, music that is an integral part of our most solemn and most joyous rituals, music that raises our awareness, music that can be a vehicle to uplift every individual and every community.

Martin Luther King understood this and musicians everywhere are inspired by his accomplishments.  Dr. King only lived to be thirty-nine years old.  But you know, you can do a lot in thirty-nine years.  You can:

Earn a Bachelor Degree in Sociology

Go on to attain a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology

Preach the Word of God

Speak out against injustice

Author six books

Be arrested thirty times

Win the Nobel Prize

Inspire a nation live out its creed

Inspire us today to serve our fellow man.

It is, of course, appropriate that we honor a great American leader, a great humanitarian, and someone who had such a close connection to the City of Chicago.  We are as inspired by this in the world of music as in any other part of society.”

So here’s to Rev. Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy.  Long may it live.  And here is to the musicians, the artists, the children, the leaders, the people from every walk of life in every place and time who inspire us to unite against injustices, to be our better selves, and to accomplish all ends without hatred or violence.

* * *

Special thanks to Dr. Mark George for his gracious permission to publish these words, and to the Brotherhood Chorale for their tremendous gift of song.  You can listen to them here.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsdEqNSNGhQ 

Thoughtful Curation: Editing Things Out

If the 20th century was characterized by the creation of infrastructure and institutions, perhaps the 21st century will be one of thoughtful curation—the era when we edit things out.   My latest passion is exploring how we might shed practices that do not exist in life outside of work at work.  What do I mean?

Forget timecards.  The origins of reporting time date from the industrial era when time & motion studies were conducted relating to assembly line work.  One hundred years later in a knowledge economy, we hire brilliant people but have no idea how long it takes them to do anything.  A focus on billability and hours detracts focus from what really matters: stellar outcomes.

Enough with the titles.  A focus on career growth seems to have thrown a ladder on the wall that once placed, people want to climb.  How about focusing on doing meaningful work with people we like, and continuing to grow at every stage, regardless of level or title?

Nix the language of “reporting.”  Rather than having a boss, how about surrounding ourselves with mentors who help us contribute to the best of our abilities?  Far better to think of accountability being to oneself and one’s team rather than a single business lead.

Just say no to anonymous, unattributed feedback.  We learn as children that it is unkind to talk about people behind their backs.  But at progressive workplaces, we are encouraged to provide candid, anonymous 360° feedback which is centrally solicited so it can be summarized and delivered to an employee without knowing who contributed.  It may shed light on perceptions, but is hardly a way to build trust and empathy between co-workers.   Without these, how can we truly help each other get better?

What other aspects of life at work might we question which don’t reflect the wisdom of how we have learned to live in families and communities over the millennia?  How might we shift toward being even more human-centered?

© July 2011 by Pam Daniels.  All rights reserved.